Ace Marks is an authentic Italian shoe brand that produces elegant footwear and leather goods for men. Founded in 2016, Ace Marks first launched as a Kickstarter campaign, which quickly caught the interest of even the most purist shoe enthusiasts.
In this guide, we will provide a detailed review of Ace Marks Shoes with a focus on their background, their best models, as well as the shoe construction processes:
- Ace Marks Shoe Reviews
- Ace Marks Brand History
- Where Is The Ace Marks Factory?
- Manufacturing Process & Construction
Feel free to use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read more.
Ace Marks Shoes Reviews
Before we present a full review of Ace Marks with detailed insight into their Italian factory and production process, we’ll take a close inspection at a sample of their footwear. Currently, you can read about the following shoes:
Simply use the links above to jump down to each shoe or scroll down to read about them all.
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Style & Construction
Ace Marks’ two-tone cuoio tan and wine brogues immediately caught our eye when we browsed the brand’s varied collections. Crafted with a Blake flex construction from supple calfskin crust leather, it features a rich patina with vivid depth and visually-engaging contrast.
Although a full brogue, the ornamentation is nuanced and not overly aggressive. It features a toe medallion as well as pinking and perfing, which you can learn about in our shoe construction guide.
Striking shoes with a stylish design, the Vincent turns heads in this particular colourway. However, if you wish for something a little more subtle, there are other options available too.
Fit & Comfort
Thanks to the Brannock-sized last, which you’ll learn about below, the Vincent brogues are entirely true to size. We even used Ace Mark’s size tool to double-check before placing our order. Similarly, they offer comfortable cushioning thanks to the memory foam insole.
Having worn several dress shoes by Ace Marks, we found that the Vincent was the most comfortable model.
This was a particularly interesting observation given that they’re all made using the same last and construction. However, this may be because the open-throat Derby lacing system is more accommodating to higher insteps compared to closed-throat Oxfords.
Value For Money
Benchmade by multi-generational artisans, the Vincent is a genuine Italian-crafted shoe that offers extraordinary value for money. Indeed, you’ll struggle to find the same construction and leather quality elsewhere at the same price.
Style & Construction
There’s no better way to test a shoe brand’s quality than studying its approach to the classic cap toe Oxford. Needless to say, we’ve seen our fair share of shoes in this style, so it takes a lot to impress us.
However, the Griffin shoe certainly dazzled us. It embraces the Blake construction with its elegantly slim profile and sleek contours, which gracefully curve from the toe to the throat.
Furthermore, the stitching is masterfully concealed to create a streamlined design, which ensures that the cap toe remains a subtle rather than obnoxious detail. Similarly, the hand-finished patina is nuanced, and although no brush strokes are visible, you can feel that the leather has a particular level of depth.
Fit & Comfort
The Griffin shoe is made using the same ACE last as the Vincent. Therefore, the sizing is meant to be precisely the same. Indeed, we felt that the fit was identical, and there were no discrepancies between the two.
At first, the Griffin Oxford shoe was slightly stiffer than the Vincent. However, it quickly broke in after a few hours of wear. Although just slightly less comfortable as the Vincent, it’s still perfectly fine for when you’re on your feet all day.
Value For Money
If you’re looking for a versatile pair of black Oxford shoes, Ace Marks offers some of the sleekest and most alluring ones that you can buy. Perfect for both the office and formal occasions, it can be buffed into a beautiful shine or left to develop a natural patina. In either case, the shoes’ quality speaks for itself.
Although other brands may offer cheaper Oxford shoes that will likely suffice for your needs, Ace Marks also proposes a level of quality that will endure for many years. Therefore, if you want to ensure a wise investment that will provide you with long-term value, the Griffin shoe would be among our first recommendations.
Ace Marks & Paul FaragoPaul Farago effectively grew up in shoe factories. His parents had been in the footwear industry long before he was born and every summer was spent in Italy to visit tanneries, last makers, pattern makers, and other manufacturers, which his parents sourced for their business.
Therefore, Paul learned from a very early age the importance of a shoe’s components as well as how to identify their quality. As his family’s business grew, it developed close relationships with a variety of Italian producers and began garnering a reputation of its own.
It came as no surprise that Paul wanted to follow his family in its figurative footsteps. Throughout his early career, Paul participated in the family business, which allowed him to collaborate with a variety of luxury designer labels, including Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, and Robert Cavalli.
How Ace Marks Was Founded
Although Ace Marks was officially founded in 2016, Paul had been developing it since 2012. He was first inspired to start it when waiting in Dallas airport. Looking down at his feet, he noticed that his $300 Indian-made designer loafers were showing signs of embarrassing levels of wear.
What was initially black leather was starting to turn green, and it dawned on him that this was the third pair that he had bought that year because of this issue. It was that very moment that Paul realised that with all his expertise and connections, he could probably make superior shoes in Italy and sell it for the same price.
As Paul was the COO for his family’s business, he had limited time to work on his project. However, after witnessing the material and financial waste in the retail industry for over ten years, his frustrations pushed him to focus on the project in 2015 entirely.
By seizing the opportunities for accessibility made available by the internet, Paul sought to provide them with an alternative. Like Beckett Simonon, Ace Marks was among the first brands to embrace a direct-to-consumer business model only the internet could support.
Rather than charging customers with prices that included distribution, retail overheads, and other intermediaries, Ace Marks could drastically decrease their costs and render luxury affordable.
However, unlike most online brands, which produce their shoes in Spain or Portugal, Paul focused on Italy. Indeed, Italy’s proud heritage for fine craftsmanship is revered around the world. Yet, most young brands often turn to Italy’s neighbours for more affordable footwear.
Ace Marks & Kickstarter
The first Ace Marks Kickstarter campaign was launched in 2016 and quickly became the most funded footwear project in crowdfunding history by raising $574,000. Although the funds would certainly support the project, it was the new relationships that would sculpt the Ace Marks identity.
Within just 24 hours, the campaign had already received over 400 comments, and Paul resolved to answer every single one. After spending an entire night discussing with his backers, a community of passionate shoe enthusiasts was born.
From Paul’s perspective, Ace Marks had become a brand that was built by its customers. An added benefit of a direct-to-consumer business was that he could have prolonged conversations with his customers.
Meanwhile, conventionally retailed shoe brands sold in department stores are far removed from their client base.
The following year, Paul launched a second collection on Kickstarter, which even broke its previous record and raised an unbelievable $1.26 million! However, Paul never lost touch with his early backers and continued to develop the community.
Similarly, Ace Marks now hosts weekly Happy Hours as an opportunity for all the people involved in crafting the brand’s identity to connect and get to know each other personally.
This very philosophy lives on today as Ace Marks has grown to be recognised as one of the internet’s most respected independent shoe brands and ships to over 80 countries. Paul never ceases to exchange with customers who provide detailed feedback and suggestions, which helps the brand continue to grow.
What Is Ace Marks Factory Access?
Inspired by the relationship that he had directly developed with his customers, Paul decided to create a yearly event called Factory Access. This occasion is marked by launching a collection of between 50 and 100 new and limited edition styles and colours.
The Ace Marks community then has the opportunity to vote on or even create new shoes to add to the campaign. Afterwards, the winning designs are instantly added to the collection and made available to buy through the Ace Marks website.
However, the Factory Access campaign is very limited, and the shoes are only produced once. Therefore, it’s a particularly prestigious and rare occasion for true shoe enthusiasts.
Where Is Ace Marks’ Italian Shoe Factory?
Paul Farago travelled to Italy and spent months searching for the perfect shoe factory to produce footwear for Ace Marks. While they found many pleasant shoes, they rarely met his high standards.
Eventually, after travelling over 35,000 miles, Paul discovered a small 4th-generation family-owned factory in the Lazio region. As it resonated with his own values, this is where Ace Marks shoes have been produced since it was founded.
Ace Marks has worked with the factory to source its leathers from tanneries in Italy or Northern Europe. Meanwhile, the crust leather is dyed and burnished directly at the factory as you will learn below.
Similarly, all of the other components in an Ace Marks shoe are sourced locally in Italy. Overall, twenty-five craftspeople play a part in crafting each pair of shoes that it produces.
How Ace Marks Shoes Are Made
Ace Marks shoes are produced using traditional bench-made techniques in an artisanal process from luxurious materials. Every shoe is crafted using hand-selected full-grain calfskin crust leather and will feature a supple calfskin lining, too.
Similarly, Ace Marks include memory foam-cushioned insoles to provide you with optimal all-day comfort. As for the assembly, Ace Marks have opted for a Blake Flex construction method, which gives the wearer particularly lightweight flexibility.
Goodyear-welted shoes are often perceived as the apex of luxury footwear. However, Blake stitching has particular advantages, which shine through Ace Mark’s creations.
Not only is Blake stitching more affordable for both the factory and customer, but the shoes have a slim profile as well as a sleek, contemporary design. Furthermore, Blake-stitched shoes are resolable, so you will still benefit from a long-term return on your investment.
Ace Marks Signature & Sneakers Collections
Nevertheless, the Ace Marks Signature collection consists of Goodyear welted shoes. Yet, these use a Goodyear Flex technique that provides the footwear with a similar level of flexibility.
Ace Mark’s Signature Collection is a limited rarity that’s only offered once a year during the Factory Access event mentioned above. These shoes also feature additional details such as hand-placed gold nails at the toe of each shoe.
Generally speaking, the outsoles are made from leather. Occasionally, rubber outsole options are made available on some boots and shoes during special events such as the Factory Access.
Additionally, Ace Marks also produce beautifully-crafted Italian sneakers. These shoes are also made with calfskin leather. However, it is what the brand refers to as a “softy” version to ensure that they’re flexible. The sneakers have a shock-absorbing insole and are also calfskin lined.
Meanwhile, the sneakers are only made with Margom outsoles which are stitched to the uppers without any glue.
Finally, Ace Marks prides itself in the factory’s master craftsmen’s finishing touches. Each shoe is dyed and burnished by hand through a meticulous and labour-intensive process.
The results speak for themselves, and Ace Marks shoes feature a dazzling gleam and rich depth of colour that are often found on only the most premium footwear.
Ace Marks Nicol Patina
A distinctive feature on Ace Marks sneakers is the Nicol patina, which is named after the factory’s lead patina artist. When Paul visits the factory, one of the first people he enjoys seeing is Nicol, a passionate artist who experiments with new and unique brush strokes in his spare time.
After catching up, Nicol’s eyes begin to shine, and he’ll often say “Paulo, vedere questo!” (“Paul, look at this!”) and he reaches under his workbench to show Paul his latest projects.
In summer 2018, Nicol presented Paul with a unique patina with light mid-sections and dark contours, which produced a luxurious level of depth and complexity. Paul was blown away by the artistry and decided to introduce it in the next Factory Access campaign. However, it is now also a patina available on a number of shoes that are available today.
Given Nicol’s excellent craftsmanship, two days were needed to redevelop the technique into a process that could be easily reproduced while still keeping the essence. However, it’s now a treasured part of Ace Marks’ identity.
Are Ace Marks True To Size?
Before Paul even started designing Ace Marks’ shoes with the factory’s artisans, they worked on developing a proprietary ACE last. Most brands will usually just adopt their partner factory’s last. However, Paul wished to create Ace Marks’ identity from the ground up.
To ensure that their shoes are genuinely true-to-size, the lasts were created according to Brannock sizing, which is the standard in the USA. Not only would this reassure customers in terms of sizing, but it would also drastically reduce the risk of returns or refunds.
Therefore, unlike some brands that are produced in Europe, you can guarantee that Ace Marks shoes provide you with a perfect fit. Furthermore, Ace Marks even created a handy sizing tool so you can double-check your foot size at home.
Ace Marks Leave Your Marks Program
Finally, Ace Marks is the only brand that we know of that will buy back your shoes when you want to replace them. When you send back your old shoes, you will receive $50 towards a new pair.
Not only will this provide you with a hefty discount towards a new pair of shoes but your old ones are renovated and donated to either Career Gear or a local charity called Dress For Success.
These two not-for-profit organisations help empower men who are seeking work by providing them with professional clothing for job interviews. Ace Marks has also developed a partnership with TwoTen Footwear Foundation to implement a similar program with its sneakers.
You can learn more about Ace Mark’s buy-back program and how to apply via its website.
Although exquisitely-made authentic Italian shoes can probably be found elsewhere, no other brand can provide the same value proposition as Ace Marks. If you were to seek a similar level of quality from heritage brands, you would likely have to pay at least double or triple the price.
Indeed, Ace Marks is founded upon the philosophy of rendering real luxury accessible. While many new and ambitious shoe brands may throw around the term “luxury” in their marketing, Ace Marks endeavours to truly reflect it with their beautifully-crafted creations.
If you want to see more of what Ace Marks has to offer, head to its website. Otherwise, consider checking out some of the related guides below:
- All Shoe Reviews
- Best Italian Shoe Brands
- More Shoe Brand Overviews
- Most Comfortable Dress Shoes For Men
- Bespoke Unit Shoe Homepage
"Authentic Italian craftsmanship and accessible luxury are the pillars that define Ace Marks' DNA."